INDIANAPOLIS — The Nike EYBL and Under Armour Association made stops in the Indianapolis area this weekend during the second (and final) weekend college coaches could be out this spring for the live evaluation period. It meant that the Hoosier state was the epicenter of college basketball recruiting this weekend as most of the elite players and top programs found their way to the area at some point in time. Here’s a look at some storylines from the weekend, including a look at some of the top players in the class.
1. DeAndre Ayton remains No. 1 in the Class of 2017
The Class of 2017 has some solid star power at the top and this group also had the benefit of playing behind a deep and competitive Class of 2016 the last few years. So the top of the 2017 class was already well prepared to take the torch and run with it as a lot of stars had big performances during the last two weekends in front of college coaches.
But the 7-foot Ayton remains the most impressive long-term prospect among a group that will produce plenty of college stars and good pros. Gifted physically in ways that are seldom seen of a seven-footer, Ayton gobbles up apex rebounds over every other player in traffic and has the lateral quickness to defend smaller players on the perimeter. He’s averaging 19.7 points and 12.3 rebounds per game on 65 percent shooting the first two weekends. And if you foul Ayton, he’s making 80 percent for his free throws so far, so you can’t go to some kind of hack-a-player strategy that is often effective with centers as big and athletic as he is. With his size, touch and overall skill level, Ayton is a monster when he’s motivated to play his hardest.
Recruiting is a bit of a mystery for Ayton right now, as he mentioned that Kansas has been the school on him the hardest.
2. The group of big men behind Ayton is very strong
The next few months, Ayton will be pushed plenty by a strong group of big men. It’s an encouraging sign that other five-star centers like Mohamed Bamba, Wendell Carter, Brandon McCoy, Nick Richards and Ikey Obiagu have all had some productive outings and appear to be growing in skill level. There are also plenty of four-star centers trying to make a push up the top 50 like UConn commit Zach Brown, Arkansas commit Daniel Gafford, Texas A&M commit Mitchell Robinson and Indiana native Malik Williams.
When you also factor in that five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon is injured and Auburn commit Austin Wiley is still recovering and that is a ton of big men that currently reside around the top 50 prospects in the country.
But after this core group of centers, there appears to be a bit of a steep decline in the talent levels. Obviously, there will be plenty of times other centers can be tested against these top-tier guys over the next few months, but landing one of these big men will be a major priority for the top schools and you can see why a few schools made a strong push to land a commitment early.
3. Trevon Duval is (still) the top point guard in a weak class for floor leaders
The Class of 2016 will be great for college basketball, in-part, because the amount of ultra-talented point guards entering the fray. The top of that class was littered with potential one-and-done point guards that will start and make an immediate impact next season.
That doesn’t appear to be the case in the Class of 2017. Delaware native Trevon Duval is certainly one of the most explosive point guards to come along during the last few years and he appears to be head-and-shoulders above his point-guard peers right now. The 6-foot-3 Duval combines athleticism, a high skill level and a competitive fire that pushes him into the top five.
Behind Duval, there are a few prospects to get excited about, but nobody can push for the top spot in the class like he can at the moment.
What’s interesting to note is how some point guards could be developed over the next few months. Remember, at the high school level, a lot of taller guards are forced to play off the ball with their high school teams in order to get the most talent on the floor. Now in the grassroots setting, some of these players who were thought of as wings and shooting guards are working on point-guard skills because college coaches are either recruiting them as such, or they have the potential makeup to play with the ball in their hands. We saw this sort of thing last summer with players like Markelle Fultz and Frank Jackson working to become point guards after being dominant high school scorers and it could certainly happen again.
4. Big wings continue to be a focus of elite college programs
We’ve seen the proliferation of jumbo wings in basketball the last few years as everyone is trying to get the next Kevin Durant or Brandon Ingram to come aboard and play on the wing. It’s rare to find wings that are as tall and talented as one of the best players in the world and the potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, but the Class of 2017 has some enticing options.
Five-star wings Michael Porter Jr., Kevin Knox and Billy Preston are all in or around the top ten and all of them stand at least 6-foot-8 with perimeter skills many guards would envy. There are also some other bigger wings who do different things well. Jarred Vanderbilt is still working to find his perimeter shot, but he’s an elite rebounder and very good passer from the wing. All four of those players can either move up the four and add more perimeter skill, or play at the three and become a matchup problem for smaller teams. Their versatility is why all four are five-star prospects.
5. Positional flexibility is becoming more of a focus with wings and big men
Changes in basketball the last few years have led to many coaches re-evaluating positional standards and what they’re looking for when it comes to recruiting. The Golden State Warriors have used 6-foot-6 Draymond Green at center and power forward extensively the last two seasons and had some of the greatest seasons in NBA history with a smaller lineup often leading the charge. Villanova started 6-foot-6 Kris Jenkins at power forward on its national championship team and only had one player taller than 6-foot-8 in its regular rotation.
Now we’re starting to see those former “tweeners” become assets as college coaches are figuring out better ways to get the most talented players on the floor. If you can handle the ball, pass and move laterally, it doesn’t matter as much if you are “undersized” anymore as many coaches appear keen on trying to copy the Golden State and Villanova model.
It’s resonated with players at the high school level to a degree as well. Some undersized forwards are beginning to understand how they can be properly utilized while others are still being told that they’re too small to play the traditional power forward spot. It’ll be intriguing to see how certain players fit with certain programs and how college coaches will try to put them on the floor. In the Class of 2017, players like P.J. Washington, Ira Lee and Galen Alexander will be ones to monitor with this situation because of their size and strength on the wing while also being able to play some forward in smaller lineups.
6. College coaches limiting themselves on the road is hurting the game
It’s nice that the April live evaluation period has returned with two full weekends that college coaches can evaluate players but it’s still not nearly enough time. Transfer numbers continue to be abnormally high over the last few years and one of the reasons is that college coaches don’t get a chance to properly evaluate high school players on the grassroots setting nearly enough.
With only two weekends in April and three weeks in July, this current calendar doesn’t make a lot of sense. It would be more beneficial to college coaches, and high school players, if they had more time to watch players and spread it out over a couple of months.
The back-to-back weekends and weeks that coaches are out don’t make much sense, especially when you consider that in April, college players are finishing up the school year and roster turnover is going on. For an institution that is so focused on the “student-athlete” to have full coaching staffs gone during multiple weekends late in the school year doesn’t make sense.
Why not go to a calendar where it’s one weekend in April, one weekend in May, one weekend in June and two weeks in July — with a one-week break in the middle of that July run? This would allow players to properly rest for the games coaches would be in attendance, it would allow college coaches to see players develop month-by-month and the June weekend could also allow for college coaches to see many players play with their high school teams. Now if a player is injured during a few weeks in April and July, it doesn’t kill their recruiting momentum because they could get other months to play in front of coaches.
This idea, of course, all falls on the college coaches voting to make the changes themselves. The old guard of college coaches doesn’t want to be on the road and away from their families, but it’s ultimately hurting the game if so many players are going to programs where they either aren’t good enough, or don’t fit what the coach is looking for.